Google Glass enters operating room at Stanford

Surgeons in training at Stanford University add Google's Internet-connected headset to their list of at-hand surgical tools.

Seth Rosenblatt Former Senior Writer / News
Senior writer Seth Rosenblatt covered Google and security for CNET News, with occasional forays into tech and pop culture. Formerly a CNET Reviews senior editor for software, he has written about nearly every category of software and app available.
Seth Rosenblatt
3 min read

Dr. Christopher Kaeding performs ACL surgery and transmits the progress to a Google Hangout. Ohio State University

Scalpel. Forceps. Needle-holder. These are common tools that all surgeons-in-training must familiarize themselves with. But doctors learning to become cardiothoracic surgeons at Stanford University Medical School will have to add a new one to that list: Google Glass.

Google has partnered with live-streaming firm CrowdOptic to transmit a surgeon-in-training's eye-view from the operating room to instructors in real time via the Internet-connected headset. The idea is that by transmitting their visual point-of-view during operations, medical residents will get better feedback and instruction from the surgeons who are teaching them.

"The reaction [from doctors] has been that this changes the game," said CrowdOptic co-founder and CEO Jon Fisher. CrowdOptic expects that the technology will offer a "paradigm shift" in surgical training, the company said Wednesday in a statement.

CrowdOptic is one of five partners in the Glass at Work program that Google announced in June to help create business uses for Google Glass. Other partners include APX Labs, GuidiGo, AugMedix, and Wearable Intelligence. APX recently hired the founder of the Glass at Work program away from Google X to run business development for the connected-headset software company.

CrowdOptic has been developing streaming use-cases for Google Glass and has built technology that can handle multiple simultaneous streaming feeds. In March, it showed a basketball player's dunking point-of-view in real time with Glass.

The partnership with Stanford won't be the first to bring Google Glass into the operating room. More than a year ago, a doctor at Ohio State University live-streamed surgery on a patient's knee. However, the new use may be the first time that Glass has been worn by the medical student -- not the instructing surgeon.

Fisher said he has answers to potential concerns about using Glass in the operating room. People do not need to worry about privacy or Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) compliance, he said, because CrowdOptic has figured out how to "lock down" the data from the live stream.

CrowdOptic has its own licensed spectrum, so it doesn't depend on a Wi-Fi partner, he added.

The data produced by the live stream is owned by Stanford, and CrowdOptic does not have access to it. However, Fisher declined to comment on the kind of encryption used to protect the data while in transit in the stream.

"It's standard including patient permission and this is the team that built Oracle's Adaptive Access Manager, [which] is the authentication and fraud detection solution used in thousands of banks worldwide, so we have the security thing covered," Fisher said in an email to CNET. He offered the fact that CrowdOptic's vice-president of engineering, Jim Redfield, ran the Oracle Adaptive Access Manager product for six years as evidence of the company's security bona fides.

CrowdOptic tech also keeps distractions to a minimum, he noted, because it seals off other Glass apps when in use. "This makes teaching more seamless," Fisher said he has heard from surgeons-in-training and doctors.

Glass has remained controversial to the public at large, but Google's betting that Glass stands a better chance at broad adoption when used in specific situations. Although getting Glass onto the heads of surgeon wannabes at Stanford University Medical School may help doctors there become better surgeons faster, it also promotes and normalizes the use of Glass itself.

Updated at 8:09 a.m. PT with comments from Fisher about encryption in CrowdOptic.